Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018: Year in Review

2018 is gone. And as we head on to a new year, it's time to look back at the old one, which had it's share of triumphs, tragedies, and tripfalls.

Probably the most notable event this year was the fifteenth anniversary Second Life was officially declared open and operational. Despite all the things that had gone wrong from glitches, bugs, griefers, Linden Lab's occasional heavy handedness, and more, the virtual world defied predictions from naysayers that it was a fad that was destined to be shut down. While the Lindens have been increasingly involved in the anniversary celebrations, such as the Musicfest and the "Meet the Lindens" events, as in the past several years it was handled by a group of volunteers. There were exhibits by dozens of communities, businesses, and groups from around the grid in the 24 sims, as well as many musicians and other performers.

Linden Lab would also make some changes to the grid this year. Late in the year came the Animesh update. This new ability has the potential to allow for better and less resource-heavy animated objects, including something like the NPCs in games. Linden Lab would also update the Linden Realms game with "The Wrath of Ruth" and "The Search for Magellan." In August, a new land mass appeared on the map. Labeled the SSP continent due to the names of the sims. While it's suspected the land will be for new premium account homes, it has not yet been officially revealed what purpose the sims will have. The Lab also started testing themed Learning Islands entry areas for new residents. Linden Lab also announced this year that they planned to "bring back last names" for newer accounts and allow established residents to change theirs for a fee. Originally planned for late 2018, it has been pushed back to at least spring 2019.

There were also some changes in how much Linden Lab would charge it's residents. In March, the Lab cut the tier of Mainland sims by ten percent and doubled the amount of free land for Premium accounts to 1024 square meters. In June, the tier for many private sims would also be cut fifteen percent and the setup fees for a sim also were cut. But not all sims could be counted for the tier cuts, notably those which had theirs reduced to "grandfathered rates" two years earlier. And to make up for the lost revenue, the fee to buy Linden dollars went up by fifty percent to $1.49. The tier reductions seemed to have a somewhat positive effect as the overall drop in private sim numbers seemed to stop, but how this affects land ownership in the long term remains to be seen.

Linden Lab would try to keep in touch with the residents though Town Hall meetings, as well as the "Meet the Lindens" event at the Second Life Birthday and CEO Ebbe Linden speaking at the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education event. At the Relay for Life, a number of Lindens took part in a "Bid the Lindens Bald" fundraiser. Besides those, residents got to interact with the Lindens at the "Hug a Linden/Dunk a Linden" Valentines Day event, two Lindens vs Residents snowball fights, and the "Creepy Crawl" venue crawl on Halloween. The Lindens would also have two "gift grab" events for the residents in the Summer and Christmas season, posting a clue on their blog where the gift of the week was and residents could figure it out and get it.

There were no shortage of events this year inworld. Besides the Second Life Birthday, there were the events held by the Relay for Life, notably the Relay Weekend and the Fantasy Faire. Second Life's largest art and music festival Burn2 and it's spinnoff events took place in spite of the founder of Burning Man, of which the inworld event is the virtual counterpart of, passing away. Communities such as Bay City, the Confederation of Democratic Simulators, and Caledon would hold a number of events. This included two elections by the CDS as they chose their new leader for the year. Luskwood, the oldest active community, turned fifteen. There would also be fundraiser events by Creations for Parkinson's, Team Diabetes, Homes For Our Troops, and other charities. One fundraiser however was marked by trouble, an event had someone tricking supporters into giving money to them instead of the charity. This would be the Newser's most controversial series of articles this year as some parties involved responded in denials or anger. The charity however expressed it's thanks.

The neighbors of the Newser's office, the Sunweaver community, would distinguish itself at the Relay for Life with it's Sunbeamer team's fundraising events such as "Bid Me Pantsless" and "Bid Me Goat" and reach the Jade, Sapphire, and Emerald fundraising ranks for the first time ever. There would also be the opening of a railroad through the community estates. Cynthia Farshore would move the Goblin Cave to Caledon, where it would find new life as the location of special events and have a Christmas train ride for the community.

Second Life would also say goodbye to some places. The Yosemite sim and park made by Jadyn Firehawk shut down this year. Gallery Graine would close down, as did the campground sim Copacabana. In Caledon, the Middlesea sim vanished and took the noted Iron Cloud airbase with it. Caledon Llyr also closed, though the land in the noted steampunk community remained to be redeveloped. Some closed places would find new life in other grids. The Luxembourg historic area would close down, the owner opening a similar place in Sansar. Aero Pines would also close down, it's creator earlier having made a place based on it in Sinespace. The closing down of one automaker, Axtel Motors, temporarily resulted in the vehicles available for free for anyone who wanted them. Second Life would also say goodbye to some residents who passed away. Among them were Phoenix Psaltery, the founder of the inworld newsletter the Metaverse Messenger which shut down several years ago, Nemoen Magne, the owner of Club Furnication which closed shortly before his death, and Akea Grommet, one of the neighbors of the SL Newser office.

Outside Second Life was some news that caught the attention of residents. InWorldz, the virtual world that was second only to Second Life in the number of users, shut down in July. The reasons why are less than clear, though apparently involve a company the owner borrowed money from taking out a lien on her. The Gofundme started by the owner added to the confusion, her saying at first they were to save the grid, then she started saying it was to help form a new grid. The virtual world shut down after only a week of warning, leaving hundreds, maybe thousands without a virtual home. Later in the year, the former owner came out with a new virtual world, Islandz. But by then most of the former residents of InWorldz had found places in other virtual worlds, or had given them up altogether. Also in news outside Second Life, the best known online newsletter devoted to Opensim coverage announced it was "winding down" after several years of operation, though not yet truly closing.

Linden Lab would also continue to promote and update it's next-generation virtual world Sansar. There was talk about a "cultural shift" in Linden Lab to Sansar and away from Second Life. Two users would also develop a couple game areas, but by year's end they would be gone. One historical area in Second Life, 19th Century Luxembourg, would close down and reopen in Sansar. But so far, very few are using the next-generation virtual world compared to Second Life. An study in April showed only fifty to ten people were using it each day on average. In contrast, VR Chat, another next-generation virtual world, was getting several thousand users a day, and Second Life getting about fifty thousand a day. Later in the year, Linden Lab announced it would be making Sansar accessible through Steam. When it was finally launched on the gaming service, at first reviews were mostly positive, and usership went up some. But a month later, the reviews are mixed and the number of active users has been going back down.

In computer and Internet news, this was the year Net Neutrality officially came to an end in the United States. Some companies have reportedly been throttling customer's traffic already, the most glaring example being in August when they made it difficult for firefighters to communicate while combating a huge wildfire. In Europe, the European Union approved legislation that threatened to "break the Internet" with bills that would require websites with news content to pay a "link tax" and require websites that allowed feedback and open virtual worlds to install "upload filters." For Linden Lab, this would mean a stark choice if the legislation was ever signed into law. Microsoft's Windows 10 had some of it's early bugs ironed out, but still continued to annoy users. It would "warn" people not to use Firefox and Chrome and try to get them to use the much less popular Microsoft-owned Edge browser. One update late in the year was delayed when it was found to be deleting the files of early installers.

The movie "Ready Player One," which was about a virtual world in an imagined near-future, came out. It was hoped it would attract attention to Second Life (and Sansar by Linden Lab), but the movie wasn't a big box-office draw and the real virtual worlds didn't benefit much from it. Probably more influential was the documentary "Our Digital Selves" by Draxtor Despres, which showed the virtual world as being of great help to the disabled and not the X-rated playground big media has sometimes portrayed it in the past.

In gaming news, Fortnite was clearly the big game this year. Subnautica also attracted attention as it was a survival game that took place mostly underwater. A favorite of some Newser fans, Ark Survival Evolved would get what is believed to be it's final expansion: Extinction. But other games and some game developers weren't doing so well. The MMO Wildstar was shut down by NCSoft, the second non-medieval fantasy game to be closed by them in several years. Trion, the company behind several games, and the publisher of the MMO Archeage, was bought out by a German online game company best known for browser-based games. One game that came out late this year, Atlas, an anticipated pirate MMO developed in part by Instinct Games which helped come out with Ark Survival Evolved was largely seen as a disappointment due to repeated delays in it's release and shoddy content, some of which was obviously copied from Ark files. Fallout 76, an MMO based on the Fallout series of games, was also largely seen as a disappointment.

For the Newser, it's been a great and exciting year in Second Life and beyond. And we'll be continuing to report the news of this great virtual world for 2019. We thank our sponsors Farshore Radio, Montecito Bay, Lorena Chung Estates, and our neighbors the Sunweaver community. And of course you the readers.

Bixyl Shuftan
Editor, SL Newser

1 comment:

  1. Great review of 2018 and it's amazing how much has happened last year.

    I'm sure 2019 will be another busy year for reporting the news.